American indie band, Icon for Hire, were not a band we expected to play in the Nordics any time soon, so you can imagine our surprise and enthusiasm when we heard they would play at On the Rocks in Helsinki with the local pop-rockers of Cyan Kicks as openers! Needless to say, we were there on February 23rd, 2020, to hear what they had to give during the Icon Army Tour!
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Follow the night’s set as a playlist on Spotify:
I was a bit late arriving, learning that Cyan Kicks had already started but I got in just in time to catch one of the singles, “Satellite” before they went straight into “Riddle.” The music was tight and clean, minus the usual On the Rocks sound muddle. Vocalist Susanna Aleksanda‘s hair glowed neon yellow in the stage lights, and while I may have heard a few notes waiver in “Satellite,” she warmed up quickly and was an enthusiastic front for the band. The instrumentalists had pretty good energy and we caught the bassist doing a jump kick at least once. “Endgame” featured a mystery rapper who came out for his part and then disappeared into the night as the band finished their set with “Gasoline.” While it was a pretty strong closer, I may have preferred a faster final song, as this isn’t the easiest track they have to help you let loose. They surprised us with some stage fog and Aleksandra let the front row sing the “gasoline” lines into the mic for her as a nice touch in the end.
These guys certainly have their own sound and style, both musically and visibly. If I have a complaint about the show, it’s only that the songs all sound a bit the same, making it hard to tell them apart when they’re not in the chorus. That said, it is a good sound and style and we hope to see and hear more of it in the near future, and hopefully more albums!
Icon for Hire was meant to take the stage at 20:30, but it seemed that they may have had some minor setbacks in getting the sound right, resulting in a small delay. The touring drummer was first to take the stage and vocalist Ariel Bloomer‘s trademark pink hair was hidden beneath the hood of her outfit as she came on stage for “Make a Move.” She revealed her face in “Pulse,” which had a design painted vertically over her right eye. She was fierce and strong immediately, looking like a seasoned and passionate performer, taking instant control of the stage. Naturally, the band is centered around Bloomer and guitarist Shawn Jump (whom I almost didn’t recognize with brown hair). Jump did his part to get around the stage but wasn’t as naturally comfortable or showy as his counterpart. Already by the third song, “Cynics & Critics,” Bloomer was both singing and rapping like a seasoned professional.
They greeted the crowd, getting some big cheers and giving a shout-out to Cyan Kicks and invited the crowd to join their gang of misfits who don’t fit in: the Icon Army (which is also the name of this tour). Bloomer announced “Venom” as a single from their new album, which comes out later this year.
The lights were unusually good for what you usually get at On the Rocks, getting very dramatic for “Supposed to Be.” Bloomer had no trouble getting the crowd to move and scream, and easily got everyone hyped up for Jump’s guitar solo.
The crowd kept shouting their love to the band between songs and Bloomer told us about her eyelashes and how her hair rips them off sometimes when she headbangs. She then talked about “Hollow” and how an interviewer had asked about all their songs being about mental health and went on to say that she feels at home and welcome here, as if she’s among friends. You can tell she meant it when she said she puts her real bare self on stage every night – that may explain the force of her performance. I also noted that Jump was fully on DJ duties in this one.
Bloomer thanked the crowd for being into it and bringing out her emotions, and laughed as someone threw up their horns for an acoustic song from Still Can’t Kill Us, the album that almost killed them. She asked all the people who feel to weird/different/broken/etc. to fit in with everyone else to sing along if they know the words to “Too Loud.” The drummer did a solo and then apparently blew out his kick drum, so Bloomer asked the crowd if there was anything special they wanted to hear; someone asked for “Happy Hurts,” which means I unfortunately missed a golden opportunity to hear “Rock n’ Roll Thugs.” She teased that the Finns only like the emo songs but gladly obliged, though Jump asked if she was sure after already opening the song. It was a nice moment that was uniquely special to the Helsinki show.
Bloomer then announced that the next song, “Counting on Hearts,” was for the fans, as an indie band who doesn’t have a big team or label to support them. Then they got really excited about us being the third crowd ever to hear the newest song, “Blindside.” Not knowing all that much of their material, I enjoyed the new songs and thought they fit in well alongside the rest of their material. Bloomer then sadly announced that they had only one song left and that the crowd needs to let loose all their crazy energy, singing loudly along with “pain didn’t change me / I changed my pain” for “Demons.” They didn’t make us wait long for an encore, giving us a song for the oldschool fans: “Off With Her Head.” They then realized they promised to play “Get Well” but had not, so that was the real last song of the night. Jump even sang a little bit in this one!
As this is only their second time playing in Finland – with the last time being back in 2014 for the Rock n’ Roll Thugs Tour – Icon for Hire said they’re hoping to come back again soon and we hope they do! They played like the stage was so much bigger than the reality while simultaneously making the whole venue feel warm and welcoming, truly as though we were all among friends. Cyan Kicks was an ideal opener for these guys, pulling in a more-or-less equal-sized crowd and the reasonably early start-time was nice for a Sunday night. Icon for Hire really laid everything bare on stage, making for a very memorable performance.
1. Make a Move
3. Cynics & Critics
5. Supposed to Be
8. Too Loud (acoustic)
9. Happy Hurts (acoustic)
10. Counting on Hearts
13. Off With Her Head
14. Get Well
Photos: Janne Puronen